101 Things I’ve Learned So Far In Teaching

teaching tips

101 Teaching Tips: Things I’ve Learned So Far In Teaching

by Terry Heick

The title is self-explanatory and the context is fairly clear. Well, actually it probably should’ve been title “101 things I think I think about teaching,” because what I think I think changes almost daily. Here are some teaching tips, nonetheless.

101 Teaching Tips, Half-Truths, And Random Musings

  1. It’s okay to close your door sometimes.
  2. If the students aren’t responding, do something different.
  3. Resist generalizations, e.g., “they’re just not getting it,” or “they’re doing great.” There is no “they”—they are 25 unique students and unique levels of performance.
  4. Do not focus on standards. Focus on the thinking habits of your students.
  5. Students will remember little of what you taught them, but will never forget the way you make them feel.
  6. Curiosity and questioning are the roots of all learning.
  7. You are a professional. Strive to project that image at all times, even when you think no one is looking.
  8. Be reachable to students after they leave your classroom. (Start a facebook teacher page, Google+ community, twitter account, etc.)
  9. Doggedly pursue uncovering what students actually understand through unique assessment forms, rather than focusing on their performance on “the” assessment.
  10. Pick three or four students per class as general “signposts,” and use them to guide your teaching.
  11. Worry less about teacher actions, more about learner actions.
  12. Help your students publish.
  13. Differentiation is not about learning styles, but about different learning experiences for different students with different needs.
  14. It’s okay to teach differently than the teacher down the hall.
  15. Smile because of what you do, not how your day is going.
  16. There is a degree of showmanship to teaching.
  17. Eat lunch with students, and sit (or stand) with them at rallies.
  18. Strive for diversity in everything–instructional strategies, digital platforms, media forms, grouping strategies, etc.
  19. Don’t try to change too many things at one time.
  20. No matter their appearance, actions, or behavior, talk to parents as equitable partners in the learning of their children.
  21. Know that it’s okay to be a crazy teacher.
  22. In all but the most obvious situations, resist trying to change a team, department, grade level, or other pocket of school culture. Lead by example, not words or directly challenging.
  23. Learn to listen to others—really listen instead of thinking of whether or not you agree, or waiting for your turn to talk.
  24. Thank others constantly. You never know what they’re going through. Also, no matter how bad it gets, someone somewhere would do anything for your job. Be humble and gracious.
  25. Find a mentor.
  26. You’re never as good as you think you are; you’re never as bad as you think you are either.
  27. Value team-building activities.
  28. Don’t stereotype 21st century learners. They’re nothing as a group, only revealing themselves as individuals.
  29. Know your own biases.
  30. Help students see their own potential.
  31. Realize that students are growing up in a world decidedly different from the one you were educated in.
  32. Visualize the way a lesson or activity will go before teaching it.
  33. Wait for quiet before you begin speaking. Have a simple, polite and consistent method of gathering students’ attention before speaking—something other than counting backwards from 5.
  34. If you’re planning formal learning sequences, use backwards planning.
  35. If you’re planning formal learning sequences, become fluent in curriculum mapping, scope-and-sequencing, etc.
  36. Learn your students’ names as quickly as possible, and then make sure you’re calling them what they want to be called.
  37. Don’t take behavior problems personally no matter their appearance. They never are.
  38. It’s not about you. Don’t force your way.
  39. You are not there to teach, you are there so that students may learn. This is an important paradigm shift, but doesn’t mean you’re not accountable when they’re not learning.
  40. Don’t be afraid to switch content areas, grade levels, schools, or districts.
  41. Teaching a content area that you don’t consider yourself super knowledgeable about can better help you understand teaching itself.
  42. Focus on reading and writing no matter what you teach.
  43. Be early to meetings. Everyone is as busy as you are.
  44. Learn how to compliment without sounding patronizing.
  45. What students go through at home is light years more important to them than today’s lesson. And that’s okay.
  46. Teach tolerance by modeling it.
  47. Intentionally brand your classroom. 
  48. Focus as much on learning spaces as you do on processes.
  49. Know the difference between declarative and procedural knowledge.
  50. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy, 6 Facets of Understanding, or our own Understanding Taxonomy to measure understanding.
  51. Each day you have a finite amount of emotional energy. Use it wisely.
  52. Never raise your voice.
  53. Everyone is charismatic somehow. Know how you are and use it.
  54. Use “wait time” creatively.
  55. If you use sarcasm, be careful.
  56. Don’t compete with other teachers.
  57. Actively participate in staff meetings no matter your mood or personal feelings.
  58. Try blended learning, but start small.
  59. Use analogies—or better yet, have students create analogies.
  60. Concept maps are your friends—for assessment, struggling writers, pre-writing, tracking narrative structures, or simple navigating complex ideas.
  61. Use technology to make the classroom walls transparent.
  62. Use a wide variety of physical and digital media.
  63. Believe in yourself and your students equally.
  64. It’s hard for students to learn from teachers they don’t like no matter how much you’d think this shouldn’t be true.
  65. Have a great classroom library—especially in math, science, social studies, etc.
  66. Be vulnerable.
  67. Teach in the moment. When you leave school each day, that day is gone. Don’t constantly teach for some nebulous future or foreboding exam. Live and learn in the now.
  68. Create reference sheets of commonly-used practices, formulas, graphic organizers, terms, etc., and have students keep those in their binders, or digitally.
  69. Use write-arounds across all content areas to allow students to quietly build on one another’s thinking.
  70. Assume the best.
  71. Do all that you can to not take work home. (It’s possible.)
  72. Be aware of how you look to others—students, staff, parents, etc.
  73. Help your students outgrow you.
  74. Focus on learning habits and Habits of Mind.
  75. Become a master at asking questions. Then help your students become even better.
  76. Focus on macro thinking patterns—cause-effect, compare-contrast, analogous situations, patterns, systems, etc., so that you can help students do the same.
  77. Pay attention if students never, ever seem to want to be around you.
  78. If your ideas on teaching and learning aren’t evolving over time, something may be missing from your workflow.
  79. Use the walls of your classroom to reach out to students with words and images that resonate, and then change it more than once a year. It’s their learning space, not yours.
  80. Have multiple, go-to methods of grouping students based on different needs—reading level, readiness, interest, etc.
  81. Make sure your students are working harder than you do. If they aren’t, change that immediately.
  82. Change lessons and units annually.
  83. Allow the students to know you as a person.
  84. Create and use a YouTube channel for something. It’s an incredible distribution tool.
  85. Use twitter, blogging, or some other persistent method of staying in touch with teachers outside your building.
  86. Take chances in professional development.
  87. Learn to tell stories, jokes, and riddles. Also use puzzles, paradoxes, moving music, and startling images.
  88. You often have to reach students emotionally before you do intellectually.
  89. Model making mistakes.
  90. Help students learn to play with content and ideas.
  91. Get learner’s attention early—early in the year, in a lesson, in a unit.
  92. Model not knowing.
  93. Use positive presuppositions without patronizing.
  94. Prove to students that you believe in them.
  95. The most basic teaching pattern of all is show me, help me, let me. Consider using it.
  96. Have students curate their own digital portfolios.
  97. Anticipate misunderstandings.
  98. Have multiple, easy-to-access data sources from inside and beyond your classroom.
  99. Don’t grade everything.
  100. If you’re not using some form of project-based learning, have a good reason.
  101. Blend the physical and the digital; offline and online spaces.

101 Things I’ve Learned So Far In Teaching; 101 Teaching Tips, Truths, And Random Musings